Birthday No 5 at Goa... New Chapter. New friends

I am a big fan of
Anthony Bourdain. Both his writing and his TV shows have had a big influence on the way I approach food writing. The high point of most Bourdain food and travel shows is when he is invited home by locals and spends time with them. Gets to know them. And, of course, eats with them.

I was lucky to have had a similar experience while bringing in my fifth successive birthday at Goa last Saturday.

The origins a of Bourdanesque evening

It all started when Sanchita, my Facebook friend, saw my status update on my visit to Goa. She immediately invited K and me over to a dinner at her place. To celebrate her birthday a week in advance. And to bring in my birthday. Sanchita is a Bengali married to a Goan Catholic. Two communities who believe in celebrating life at the first opportunity. With food of course.

Our hosts

So off we went to Sanchita's place at Mercer near Panjim. She greeted us with a smile so warm that it would be impossible to believe that we had never met her before. Sanchita was the epitome of a busy host. Running around from corner to corner ensuring that everyone was looked after. She had cooked Goan food as requested by moi. And would do the dishes later as she was maidless. She is too energetic to be a Bong. Or a Goan. I had a tough time trying to find her stationary so that I could click her.

Her husband Anil is a big hearted host. A Goan in the truest sense. He'd grown up here. Not much of a eater imself, he ensured that our mouths were full and glasses were not empty. A soulful singer with a very charming voice. And a very, very talented painter! I don't claim to understand art. I was unimpressed by Picasso. But the vividness of Anil's colours. The bold strokes of his brush. The layers within the paintings. The variety in his work. The raw, uncorrupted passion with which he spoke about his art, were all very humbling. And to think that this is not what he does for a living! Anil said that he wouldn't want to paint for money. He said the joy would go out the day someone dictated him to draw 'two coconut trees and the sea'. So by day he works in accounts and studies law. He comes into his own when faces the easel.

Why does this sound so familiar?

My evening was made when my looks of longing worked. Anil gifted us three of his paintings. I felt as if I was the luckiest birthday boy in the world. Can't wait to frame them and put them up.

And then there was their son Jatan. He loves cricket. In true Goan style he plays the game to enjoy it. Cricket for him is a game and not a coaching class activity. Like his parents, an earnest host, paying attention to all the guests at home like a true gentleman.

Meeting local Goans for the first time

I was fortunate to meet Anil and Sanchita's friends. Warm Goans to the hilt. Anil had grown up with most of them. Lalitha, Milind, Chris, Delano, Kevin and many more wonderful people who welcomed K and me as if we all knew each other all our lives. At no point, did we feel like strangers.

This was the first time that I got meet 'real' Goans. People who live here. Not just those who are part of the tourism industry. An interaction which didn't involve the exchange of cash.
It was fascinating to feel their love for Goa. To understand their take on tourists - 'Indian tourists who spend versus foreigners who come on a charters and don't always contribute to the local economy'. Their concern about the aging population of Goa as their children move out in search of better opportunities and affordable housing. Their wry joke about Goa becoming a 'retirement village. A statement which barely hid the pathos in their hearts. They loved Goa and cared for it deeply. And, by the way, they do not consider Baga as the real Goa!

Our exposure to Goan cuisine so far had been limited to the Catholic dishes of pork vindaloo, pork sorpatel and pork chilly fry. There was a polite silence amongst the Hindu Goans in the room when I announced my love for Goan pork dishes.
The studied silence was soon replaced by excited chatter on their favourite places to eat local Hindu (Saraswat) fish curries. A mother in law's secret recipes of Goan prawn pulao with peas was shared with me by her proud daughter in law. Sanchita told me about the guy who makes excellent prawn biriyani near the airport. And of a pork dish called 'Buch' which only a few grannies still make.

Happy birthday to you

Twelve O'clock came and went as K mouthed 'happy birthday' to me. Everyone suddenly remembered my birthday at one am! Anything earlier or more punctual would be atypical of this laid back paradise.
And what a celebration followed. Loud and loving singing. Guitars at work. High and low pitched voices mixing in tandem. The song went 'happy birthday...clap, clap...happy birthday...clap, clap...". And then I had to sing 'Many thank yous to you' in the same tune. Except that at my speed and coyness to sing... I could only join in at the penultimate line. Not that anyone noticed.

Authentic Goan food with a Bengali touch

Yes, this is a food blog. Just as Bourdain's show is a food show. Well the food was abundant and excellent. Right from Sanchita's olive, cheese crackers and tuna crackers to accompany the well stocked bar. To the fish roe fry. Roe from a four feel long king fish. Boiled. Sliced and sauteed in mild spices. Virginal and yet very very evolved. The roe had a diaphanous texture similar to that of Hilsa roe. Bound by a sausage skin-like consistency outside. It was sooo good that K, who is neutral to roe, popped quite a few herself.

Dinner was lavish, Goan, home made. Cooked by a Bengali! Food binds all as they say. A lovely sorpatel. Full flavoured. Tantalising meat. Again had vindaloo lover Kainaz diving into the sorpatel with glee.
Mutton Xacuti. Very tender mutton and a lovely, light, mildly sweet, flirtatiously sour sauce. As perfect as food could get. I had never liked Xacuti before this. Sanchita let us into her secret. She doesn't put in as much grated coconut as one is supposed to. This explained the light, uncomplicated curry. Well, whatever works. I don't put mustard oil in my kosha mangsho after all. What's the point of cooking if you don't add your own touch to a dish?

And there were the butter, garlic baby squids. Mellow and soothing after the more robust Goan curries of sorpatel and xacuti. All of this was held together by poi, the crusty, husk based Goan bread. And biriyani made by Milind. With his mom's recipe as his wife Lalitha proudly told us. The secret, I believe, lies in the tomatoes that this venerable lady added.

For dessert there was Bebenca, the traditional Goan dish. Warmed and had with ice cream as Delana and Lalitha said it should be. I admired the softness of the Bebenca. Sanchita told me that it was made by a lady in the village. These homemade Bebencas have a shelf life of forty eight hours. Commercial Bebencas last for a month in contrast thanks to additives.

We finally left close to three in the morning when Sanchita dropped us at a cab stand. She made sure that we were in a cab and on our way despite the late hour. Promises were made to make a stop by at their place during trip number ten. And every time thereafter. A promise I look forward to keeping.

Today, 12th February, is Sanchita's birthday. Please join your hands and sing a very joyful birthday song for this wonderful lady. Who knows, with luck you could be on her guest list too.


uma said…
Sea food with both Bengali and Goan touches would have been definitely great.. looks delicious.. A very Happy Birthday to Sanchita..
Nice..happy..b'day to sanchita..
lovely post - again straight from the heart. Reads like a story!
Unknown said…
Could taste the gravies...yummy, thanks for such a vivid description and pictures Kollan and those paintings and colours rock!
Scarlett said…
Someone's turning into our own home-grown Anthony Bourdian ;)
Pavan said…
Hi Sanchita!
Many many happy returns of the day!
so when is the treat! :D
Unknown said…
kollan this is overwhelming. thanks for being a part of your / my birthday get together. this is typical goan way of life. live today and share with people what you have to offer. be it food, music, colours, goodwill.

Thanks guys for the birthday wishes. Pavan : anytime. when ever you are in goa :)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Hey thanks Harman, Uma. Somoo you maddde me day :0

And Scarlett you know how to make an old man smile

Madhumita great to finally find you on the blog, Sanchi's bd gift

Pavan, I can vouch for a treat if you go there

Sanchita: me too :) thanks so much for the wonderful time
Rhea said…
So because of a really crazy schedule, I haven't been able to read your blog for about a week now.

But boy, oh boy.. I'm having a blast going through them now!!!

The food's torture, though. Happy Belated Birthday to Sanchita! :-)